The former home of Salmon Brown in Salem, Oregon, 1920 (Salem Public Library/Ben Maxwell collection)

This column was originally written for the Willamette Valley Genealogical Society's publication in a slightly different form and is shared here with permission.

Salmon Brown was one of 20 children, second youngest, of John Brown of Harpers Ferry, Virginia fame. He lived in two houses in Oregon, one in Salem and one in Portland.

Kylie Pine’s masterpiece of research on Salmon Brown on the Willamette Heritage website sparked my interest in doing additional research on the Salem connection.  

There are numerous newspaper and journal articles that mention Salmon as he had a long-life well lived. His mother was the second wife of the famous John Brown and Mary Ann Daly. They were married in 1833. “A child of John Brown’s second marriage was Salmon born at Hudson, Ohio on October 2, 1836,” a 1955 Capital Journal article reported.

The original publication of "John Brown's Body" (Wikimedia commons)

 Salmon Brown’s early years

“Salmon Brown lived in Ohio during the early part of his life, but removed to Massachusetts and then to North Elba, New York before his marriage in 1857,” The Oregonian reported in 1906. “His father, at the time of his birth, was raising sheep and working as a tanner. He followed in his father’s footsteps to Kansas and was actively involved in the fighting between pro and anti-slavery forces prior to the Civil War.”

According to a PBS documentary, “He took part in the drama in territorial Kansas in 1856 … In Kansas, he was one of the bold men gathered by John Brown to kill five proslavery conspirators, executing them in the vicinity of Pottawatomie Creek in May 1856.  The following month, Salmon fought in the Battle of Palmyra (better known as The Battle of Black Jack) on June 2, 1856.  Afterward he accidentally wounded himself by gunshot but survived to return east with his father and brothers and their families.  After returning to the Brown homestead in North Elba, New York, Salmon, now twenty-one-years-old, married Abbie Hinckley (b. 1839) on October 15, 1857, about two years before the Harper's Ferry raid in 1864.”    

A young Salmon Brown (West Virginia Divisionof Culture and History) 

He was not present for his father’s attempt to take over Harper’s Ferry.  As his wife claimed in an interview, “One of the boys had to stay at home. That lot fell to Salmon.” “His father’s involvement in the affair would affect the course of the rest of his life,” the documentary said.

When the Civil War broke out, Brown enlisted and was given a commission as a second lieutenant but never saw action on the battlefield. ”Accounts through multiple newspapers vary, but the most interesting one states that fellow officers petitioned that he be removed from their ranks, citing the fear that when the other side discovered Brown’s ancestry, his unit would be put in greater danger as they looked for revenge against the martyr of Harper’s Ferry,” the PBS documentary said. 

“Colonel Freeman declared that he would resign before he would have anything to do with the affair.  However, Lieutenant Brown prevailed upon Colonel Freeman to accept his resignation,” the Oregonian reported.

Salmon Brown in California

“In 1863 Mr. Brown with other members of his family started out for California.  They stayed in Indiana through the Winter, thinking that farming there would receive their attention for several years, but the lure of California was too strong and they arrived there in 1864. Mr Brown was in that State for 30 years, most of the time spent in sheep-raising,” the Oregonian’s report said.

During the harsh winter of 1893, disaster struck the Brown family farm and they lost several thousand sheep from their herd of 14,000. So, after 30 years in California they packed up and left Humboldt County for Oregon. 

Both California and Oregon were Union States during the Civil War, so Salmon Brown and his family members had no issue with settling in these two states.

Salmon Brown in Salem

 “The family then headed north intending to settle in Seattle, but ended up settling in Salem after seeing the community,” the Albany States Right Democrat reported in 1893. 

According to a 1980 Marion County newsletter, “Oldtimers say Salmon… first lived on N. Front St. near Marion Square, then to 1243 Marion St., near the present Olinger Pool, owned a meat market at 13th and Center, moved to Portland in the late 1890s.”

My guess is that Salmon Brown’s sons did most of the hard daily work on the farm and at the meat market business in north Salem, as he had become bedridden from a serious injury 35 years prior.

Salmon Brown did not attempt to hide his relationship with his famous father; in fact, he was very proud of his father and his own military service in the Union Army (Grand Army of the Republic G.A.R. after the Civil War).  He gave speeches, did some writing and took part in various paradesHe also liked to share his many pioneer stories and took part in local politics.  

It was reported that he attended an early February 1898 meeting in the school basement at East Salem High School, of the few pro-silver Republicans in Salem, of which Salmon Brown was a supporter. 

What this meant economically was that silver bullion and coin would back the nation’s paper currency, and not be backed by gold only. Written permission had been obtained from the President of the school board to hold the meeting in a Salem public school building. The school janitor was paid one dollar for setting up the seats for the meeting as he worked after hours.  Salmon said privately that he supported the group’s efforts but was disinclined to give a formal speech because he was inclined to “get hot”, when discussing the “gold standard.” 

As a Republican, he supported the pro-silver standard of Democrat William Jennings Bryan for President in 1898. His earlier views on the subject, he felt were misrepresented by Portland Tribune and Oregonian reporters.

The Salem House

I slogged through the historic online land records for Marion County and found that there is a record of Salmon Brown and E.W. Brown offering a mortgage on some of their land on January 25, 1895. 

The original deed for their property must predate 1896. A more extensive search for S. Brown and E.W. Brown might turn up the original record.

State Capitol columns in front of Salmon Brown house in Salem, Oregon, 1960 (Salem Public Library/Ben Maxwell Collection)

The columns in Brown house west facing side yard were rubble from the Capitol Building fire in 1935. After 1960, they were tossed into Mill Creek and later recovered in the 1970s by historians, concerned citizens and Oregon Legislative staff.  The broken columns were placed on display, where they remain today as a “monument” to the memory of the 19th century Oregon Legislature(s) and their Greek/Roman renaissance building. To find these unique columns, visit Capitol Park to the east of the current State Capitol Building.

Today the Salmon House is a remodeled house tucked in behind Safeway on Marion Street. If you walk by it late at night you just might be able to hear distant music and Salmon Brown’s voice singing “John Brown's body lies a-moldering in the grave.”

The former Salmon Brown house today (Craig Smith/Willamette Valley Genealogical Society)

Editor's note: This column is part of an effort from Salem Reporter to highlight local history in collaboration with area historians and historical organizations. If you have any feedback or would like to participate in Salem Reporter's local history series, please contact managing editor Rachel Alexander at [email protected]

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